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Four Ways Digital Experience Will Evolve In 2020

Parna Sarkar-Basu

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Your brand's marching orders for 2020 will start with this: Every point of interaction with consumers should spark an immediate, positive response.

This dynamic is at the core of today's experience economy. I believe the importance of providing a strong positive experience, especially digitally, will grow in 2020 and permeate every function of a business. Think of the experience economy as the environment in which we attract and retain customers in the digital age.

First, a definition. Digital experience goes beyond the trend of younger consumers preferring "experiences" over material goods. This spending inclination among millennials, as noted in a survey conducted by the Harris Poll, is an interesting trend, but the digital experience economy can be thought of as how brands interact with customers and are perceived by consumers today.

The reality is that in 2020, brands need to focus on improving consumer experience across multiple points of interaction. Today, it's not enough to have a good website or a nice mobile app. Experience unfolds across multiple platforms, including smart products.

Think of all the ways a brand like Google offers up an experience. It can be through its legacy product - the search engine - but today, it's also through smart devices like the Nest Mini, Google smartphone or its cloud apps and online meeting space technology. Tech giants like Google, Amazon and Apple have multiple conduits for delivering experiences to people.

While this trend toward multiple user interfaces (UIs) has been underway for years now, I expect the experience economy to deepen in 2020 and intertwine with other trends like artificial intelligence (AI) and the democratization of technology. Here are a few digital experience developments to watch for in 2020:

'Multi-experience' will become table stakes. This trend is at the heart of the digital experience economy. The idea is to make an immediate connection with the customer that makes them feel good about the brand. Increasingly, that involves not only the look and feel of the product and its advertising, but also digital UIs in all forms. It can involve voice interactions, gesture-based UIs and wearables including tech like augmented reality (AR) glasses, as well as the look and feel of apps and social media sites.

Of course, experience still involves the design of physical products and packaging. It's interesting that Google - which has its roots in search algorithms - now has an entire Design Lab facility with designers working on the look and feel of its hardware products. Brands that treat each digital platform as a silo, or think of UIs in only the conventional sense of apps, are likely to bleed customers to companies that successfully humanize their brand across multiple points of interaction.

New technologies will be more accessible. According to Gartner, the democratization of technology means "providing people with easy access to technical or business expertise without extensive (and costly) training." It's the idea that tech like AI is powerful, but not practical if you need a small army of Ph.D.s to deploy it.

Fortunately, some vendors are addressing this need. Examples include software platforms that streamline data storage infrastructure for the cloud or platform-as-a-service offerings, which simplify the deployment of cloud-based predictive analytics. Sometimes, the "hot technology" isn't so much an entirely new technology - it's about making advanced tech easier to leverage. There is an experiential aspect to this, in that when you make emerging technology easier to access and deploy, it's less intimidating.

Sustainability will gain ground via personalization and transparency. Consumers care about sustainability. In fact, research by Nielsen found a strong preference for companies that care about the environment. It makes sense for companies with sustainable products to tap into consumer interest in sustainability. Let consumers "experience" the sustainability of your products or services by presenting them with information as they make their choices.

If you sell online and one delivery choice has a lower carbon impact than another but adds half a day to the delivery window, let the consumer know that. If you have a smart product with voice features, have the device "congratulate" the user when a green choice is made with online shopping or energy management for the device. Sustainability is complex, but there is much that can be done at a personal level via transparency.

Emerging tech will build momentum via smaller-scale successes. Long term, there is little doubt automated vehicles (AVs) will see significant use, but it's an open question how long it will take for it to happen at scale. The lack of AV-focused infrastructure will likely slow adoption. In fact, some estimates say broad adoption isn't likely until the 2030s.

Does this mean AVs are all hype? No, not at all, when viewed through the experience of more narrow populations that could benefit sooner. For example, AVs could help mass transit systems move the elderly or people with disabilities to local appointments, or shuttle them from homes to nearby mass transit connections. On corporate or university campuses, AVs are beginning to be used to shuttle people from parking lots to buildings. We're also beginning to see the use of small delivery AVs for food orders. These limited AV use cases should build acceptance for the technology and allow for fine-tuning of the "experience" of being transported by AV or interacting with them as drivers or pedestrians.

The digital world, in which many "things" are now smart devices, creates many new types of experiences that can either strengthen a brand or degrade it. If a pizza delivery AV runs over your foot or your roses, you're not going to like it, even if the pizza is hot. If a smart speaker is constantly giving you wrong answers, like the weather in Houston instead of Boston, that's a disappointment too.

The level of consumer enthusiasm for smart devices and new tech will come down to perceptions. Brands that understand the experience economy and deliver it right will be better positioned to succeed in the new decade.

Parna Sarkar-Basu is VP of brand marketing for WITI and CEO of Brand and Buzz Marketing, LLC.

This article first appeared in Forbes.

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